How To Get Maximum Efficiency Out of Your Refrigerator

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Improving your fridge’s efficiency presents a great opportunity to reduce your energy consumption and save money on utility bills. Here are several no-cost ways you can maximize your refrigerator’s efficiency, along with shopping tips if your unit needs to be replaced.

Use the right temperature setting

Make sure the temperature is in the optimal range. If you have a fridge-freezer combo, the Department of Energy recommends keeping the fresh food area between 37°F-40°F, while keeping the freezer section at 5°F. For standalone freezers, keep the temperature at 0°F.

If you’re unsure of the actual temperature in your device, you can purchase an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer to check it. The DOE recommends putting the thermometer between frozen packages to register the temperature in the freezer.

Don’t put hot dishes in the fridge

You also want to be mindful of the temperature of the items you place in your fridge. Let your hot dinner’s leftovers cool off for a few minutes before you clean up for the night. Adding hot items to the cool environment will make your fridge work harder to maintain the desired temperature.

Fill it up

Your refrigerator is most efficient when it’s full. Kristin Swineford, communications specialist for the U.S. Department of Energy, describes the process.

“Apparently it works like this: when you open the door, a stocked refrigerator will hinder the cool air from escaping and subsequently, the more items that take up space, the less air there is to have to cool.”

If you don’t have it stocked with food, then consider putting bottled water or pitchers full of cold water in the appliance. Bags of ice will work in the freezer.

Seal your fridge

There’s a fun, simple way to test the seals on this heavy-duty appliance. All you’ll need is a piece of paper or a dollar bill.

Open your refrigerator door and place the sheet of paper so that the sheet will be half inside, half outside when you shut the door. Close the door over your paper and try to pull the sheet out. If it comes out effortlessly, then you should look into repairing the seal or possibly purchasing a new unit (with the Energy Star label, of course).

Don’t forget to seal your food, too

Always cover your containers and wrap your food when you stow it away. Foods and drinks that aren’t sealed will release moisture into your refrigerator, forcing your compressor to work harder. More work = more electricity.

Conduct regular maintenance

As with all home appliances, there are several proactive things you can do to keep your refrigerator running efficiently.

If you see frost buildup of more than one-quarter inch, it’s time to defrost the unit. Frost buildup also makes the refrigerator work harder.

You should also vacuum your condenser coils twice a year. With clean coils, your unit can keep the fridge at the desired temperature while consuming less energy.

Refrigerator Shopping Tips

Do you need a new fridge? If your icebox was bought before 1993, it’s time to purchase a new one since your unit is likely using more than twice the energy of a current Energy Star model.

Here are a couple of tips for a successful shopping trip.

  • Consider not only the cost of the appliance but also how much it will cost you to use it. Looking for the blue Energy Star label is a quick, easy way to narrow down the contenders. Energy Star-certified refrigerators use at least 20 percent less energy than required by federal standards and 40% less energy than conventional models sold in 2001.
  • Buy a unit that isn’t oversized for your needs. A smaller fridge might do the trick for a two-person household.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Models with top-mounted freezers use 10 percent to 25 percent less energy than side-by-side or bottom-mount units.
  • Automatic icemakers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14–20%, according to Energy Star. They also can raise the purchase price by $75–250.

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